07 September 2010

Of Mice and Men and Little Boys and Spigots. And Dogs.

I was idly watching CNN the other day. Rick Sánchez was being interviewed about his new book, Conventional Idiocy. Apparently it is an autobiography which recounts, among other things, his very own Horatio Alger story of how he came up through the ranks, how the son of a poor Cuban immigrant became successful in The Land of Opportunity to become a Prince of the Mass Media Reporting Circus.

In the interview, he tells a story which became a Life Lesson for him. About how he used to help his father deliver furniture to people in Boca Ratón (= rich folks living in Mouse Mouth, Florida), and how he would often ask for a glass of water at the end of his grueling job. One Woman, with the Manners of a Blue-Nosed Mule, told him that he could just "drink from the spigot in the back yard where the dogs drink their water." He was, justifiably, very angry about that. Now for the incredible part: the reason why this was a Life Lesson. In the words of his father: "Son, that lady just did you a huge favor. She made you understand how important it is to work hard in this country, and then anything is achievable."

what? .... What? .... WHAT?? WTF?! Excuse me, Rick, but you were right to be angry. And you would still be right to be angry. I find it incredible that you could get through the School of Hard Knocks and not have a little more common sense. Was your flawed logic just for the sake of ingratiating yourself with your non-Cuban / non-latino peers? Because you forgot a couple of things on the road to becoming rich enough and famous enough to send a gold-plated spigot to the Non-Lady in Boca Ratón:

(1) You were not just angry. You felt humiliated.

(2) Everyone has the right to be the recipient of basic manners and human civility; you already worked very hard that day, and you did not have to work harder to just to prove yourself worthy of not quenching your thirst "where the dogs drink their water."

The dog in that scenario was the abominable homeowner.

And the Life Lesson was actually this: She made you understand how important it is to respect everyone, because that is when anything is truly achievable.

07 July 2010

The Findometer

The contraption pictured here was the first patented version of a Findometer. Its inventor, Julius Gronsonby, labored over it for nearly a decade. Cumbersome and not always reliable, it functioned rather like a Geiger counter and was limited to extracting small objects embedded in floor carpeting. Flagging sales, high production costs, and limited capabilities eventually led to its demise.

Flash forward to 2010. The 21st century heralds a wave of technological gadgets the like of which humanity has never seen. Somewhere out there... somebody is working on the modern prototype of the Findometer. Here are the anticipated technical specs and proposed functionality:

1. New name: iFind

2. Size: more or less that of an iPhone

3. Wireless

4. Indoor-Outdoor Capabilities

5. Waterproof, Fireproof, Shock Resistant

6. Detection Range: 100 yards

7. Primary Detection Capabilities:
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (old dried carrot in fridge, earring back, lost hamster, etc.)

8. Secondary Detection Capabilities: Temperature, Age, Date of Disappearance

9. Add-Ons: Users can purchase special apps such as the Doc App, capable of carrying out refined searches according to content and appearance of misplaced documents (shopping list + written in pencil + coffee stain on top right corner, etc. ) The Pic App even allows the user to make a rough sketch of lost object in order to narrow the search field.

10. Voice Response: iFind not only responds to verbal clues, it will begin by suggesting likely hiding places for the lost object, e.g.:

USER: Where the heck are my **%/·# reading glasses?
i-FIND: Touch the top of your head lightly.

Whoever is working on this... get cracking! (And while you're at it, do come out with a model that can be used by the post office, airline baggage handlers, and students who frequently misplace their homework.)

27 June 2010

cyber spanglish

Where did I leave off? Oh, yes, with a scintillating rant on OTD, Obsessive Tinkering Disorder. I still have that, and it's just as well, because I have to set up an online web course for the fall.

Who the heck would sign up for beginning Spanish online? Apparently everyone in the two filled-to-overflowing sections I will soon have to deal with. The online textbook with all the bells and whistles is in place.

But how to handle, uh .... speaking proficiency? I am thinking musical Skype, with sixty people all tuned in at the same time and let 'em duke it out for conversation practice, which will be limited to:

— Student 1: ¿Cómo tú estás? Yo soy Nacho.

— Student 2: Ha, ha! Tú ... no.... es... eres... you're not Nacho, dude!

— Ortizzle: I would just like to point out that, in fact, "Nacho" is a nickname for Ignacio.

— Student 2: No way! So some dude called Nacho is really bein' called a chip with some cheese on it?

And so on. (paying silent tribute to K.V., may he rest in peace and be frolicking with the gods.)

15 August 2009

I can't believe I did not know that...

This is going to be one of those "remember when?" stories. (If you are younger than 30, you probably will not remember when.) So... remember when the old black screen/white chunky Courier font text computers became... WINDOWS? And all of a sudden, Disney's Wonderful World of Color exploded onto the screen? That was back in my Madrid days, and I was lucky enough to be working in a publishing company that not only got these creatures when they were hot on the market, but provided us with classes to learn how to use them.

One Friday evening, when all of the rats had left the sinking ship, I decided it was Playtime. First stop: Paintbrush. Totally worthy of a modern art exhibition, right?

Then it was time to change the desktop color (a nasty hospital green) and maybe fonts and background colors. Because.... how cool would it be to have, say, a navy blue background with white text?

So I entered the Domain of the Control Panel God and started messing around. I was immensely proud of myself for figuring this out since it was not something they taught us in the course. Also because in the early days of Windows, I was still a bit dyslexic using the mouse, El Ratón.

Monday morning came and I was ready to open up a file and start typing in crisp white letters on a navy background. Except... the background was still white. And... nothing appeared when I started typing! I tried everything I could, but this was still early days for word processing software, and I also still had a lot to learn. Panic was beginning to set in. I would have to call for help.

"Help" meant getting one of the two on site computer geeks to fix it. It was a crap shoot which one would come around, and the difference between the two was like cheese and chalk. The Nice Computer Geek was nicknamed "El Valium" because no matter how convoluted the problem was, he remained smiling, unflappable, and almost seemed to congratulate you for not screwing up worse. The Evil Computer Geek was your worst nightmare. We did not have a nickname for him, but the words "Juan Is Coming To Fix Your Computer" struck terror in the hearts of even the male staff.

So you just know which one showed up at the scene of the crime. After a few intense minutes of tapping keys and zipping in and out of windows I did not even know existed, he announced, "It is fixed." Silent pause. "Um, what was wrong with it?" I bravely ventured.

Juan the Evil One explained that the navy background I thought I had set for text documents only applied to the desktop design colors. It was not possible (in those days) to set the background inside a text document to navy, all I could do was change the text color. And since I had chosen white, typing white text on a white background made it appear as if I was typing without any text appearing. Ahem. Juan the Evil One then announced that he was punishing me for a whole month by restoring the default colors on the desktop and "locking it" so that I would not be able to get into the configuration. I was mortified. And also very depressed at the thought of a whole month of looking at that nasty hospital green color.

A month later, El Valium stopped by the department, and I rushed him over to my desk to remove the virtual lock from my configuration. When I told him what Juan the Evil One had done, he smiled his usual smile and said some of the truest words ever spoken in the field of modern technology: "Computers only do what you tell them to do." Those words have echoed in my mind countless times over the last few decades. And while it is true that computers can have a lot of their own glitches, 90% of the time, the wrong result is the result of the wrong command given, or, in computer jargon, a PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair).

The point of all of this was actually meant to be a brief illustration of the fact that I have a very severe case of OTD, Obsessive Tinkering Disorder. I am capable of spending hours fiddling with format options. If there is a way to get a square peg ino a round hole, I will find it or gnash my teeth trying. Which is why, in my camino accidentado, accident-prone journey of testing stuff out, I often have these wonderful moments of computer epiphany: "So that's how you get the footer text to appear on alternate pages!" And so on.

My students, who think Boomers are computer clueless (instead of recognizing the fact that for every computer clueless Boomer, there is another one who invented the software they are using), were always in awe of little things I would point out to them. Such as the fact that if you want to type Spanish punctuation (¿Qué?), you can add a virtual Spanish keyboard to your computer instead of having to use ALT + 130 or whatever the cumbersome code is. They were actually wide-eyed with admiration one day when I pointed out that if you click "cached" on a Google search result, it would produce the text with all of the search words highlighted in color. Oh Frabjous Day!

So imagine my complete disbelief yesterday when I was using the little pop-up computer calculator and discovered, after years of "clicking" on each number painstakingly, that I could KEY IN THE NUMBERS ON THE CALCULATOR DIRECTLY FROM THE KEYBOARD. (Admittedly, I rarely used the little pop-up calculator for that very reason unless nothing else was available.)

Still. Can you believe I did not know that??!!

Ever had a tech epiphany after years of doing something the hard way?


P.S. Not having posted in over a month, I can see that this blog is not going to return to the days of once-a-week posting. That said, it does feel good to put something up. Kind of like taking a shower and getting dressed after you've been schlepping around in your jammies all morning.

07 July 2009

but will not just come to you

This is part of a postcard that was in my mailbox when we got back from a short vacation.

Normally when I get bilingual mail, the English is acceptable and the Spanish is deplorable. In this case it was pretty much the reverse.

So... money has been "located in my name." And it's $573.62. "But will not just come to me."

I know this is a scam, but I am interested in exactly how the scam works. So I call the number at the bottom of the card and I am told that the money can come from "various sources" (bills, deposits, inheritances, etc.) but that they cannot divulge the specifics over the phone. When I "come in for my appointment" and "sign the necessary paperwork" they will tell me. Huh! It is what I figured, and the cretin on the phone admits that they take their cut. How much? I don't know because the $573.62 is what I get with their "cut" already taken. 20%? 50%? Probably even more.

I say "thank you, but no thank you" and hang up.

Then I decide to do some online investigation. I find lots of websites that will offer free searches for unclaimed money. I put my name in a search engine on one site and it finds $3,041.84. If I want to find out more about claiming this, I can give them my credit card number and search records for one month for the modest sum of eleven dollars. Then I start reading the feedback from irate customers who say they are getting the runaround about canceling their subscription to search options: three years later they are still being charged $11 a month and, not surprisingly, haven't come up with much money or any.

Eventually I find a comment that makes some sense: don't ever pay to find your own money. The commenter has left a link to a legitimate page where it does not cost anything to search or claim your money. I click on the link for my state, key in my name and city, and come up with nothing. Totally believable. And then... just for the heck of it, I key in my name again, changing the surname to my maiden name. Bingo! Without paying a search fee, I discover that AT&T owes me $75 from several years ago. An address is listed which is indeed a place where I lived at one time, and I am able to download a form and given instructions for claiming the money. No registration fee, all government-controlled and totally legit.

Seventy-five dollars is not going to change my life-style, but it was kind of cool to see that underneath the scam... there really were a few extra bucks. And P.S.: Mr. O. also had a $75 apartment deposit owed him from years ago.

Are you a little richer than you think? Here's the place to find out: http://www.unclaimed.org/

N.B. Don't go to "unclaimed.com"... that's the rip-off site. If you want to read about it, MSNBC has an article: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12028200/